Just as academics and other aspects of cadet life have gone virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the professional development program designed to prepare first class cadets to transition to the aviation branch has had to adjust this semester.
Led by the branch representative Capt. Jonathan Lunde, Department of Military Instruction, and supported by the President of the Black Knights chapter of the Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA), Col. Rich Melnyk, the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, the branch has and will conduct several virtual events to support cadet development.
The first event was a discussion led by 1st Lt. Alaina Kappner, Class of 2017. Kappner is a fixed-wing aviator and currently deployed leading an intelligence task force. She spoke about the career path of a fixed-wing aviator in the Army and opportunities in the intelligence community.
The next meeting was led by Maj. Matt Brown and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Zealand Shouse, both experimental test pilots at Redstone Arsenal in the Army’s Test and Evaluation Command.
They spoke and answered questions about the Naval Test Pilot school and opportunities in the Acquisition Corps as a test pilot.
Future sessions include a meeting with recent graduates who are stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to help cadets understand the demands of flight school and answer questions about inprocessing and housing since flight school is a PCS move for new lieutenants.
The branch is also scheduled to hold a virtual sendoff on Friday featuring guest speaker Brig. Gen. Mike McCurry, the director of the DAMO-AV office of the DA G-3/5/7. This will be a great opportunity to hear from a senior aviation officer and someone who holds a key position in the aviation enterprise.
The sendoff will also provide a chance to recognize the top cadet in the branch, Class of 2020 Cadet Haley Watson. Normally, she would have been recognized at the AAAA Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, and by a representative of AAAA at the actual sendoff event but both had to be canceled.
Watson, originally from Missouri, was a standout in cross county and track, and served as a command sergeant major for Cadet Leader Development Training/Cadet Field Training I. During the academic year, she earned the Fulbright Netherlands and Schwarzman scholarships.
The team plans to host one additional forum with recent graduates from around the force that represent the different airframes and missions in Army Aviation.
This effort is being coordinated by 1st Lt. Austin Lachance, Class of 2017, and will help cadets better understand the roles they will play as junior officers and be informed when they have to select airframes during flight school.
The aviation community at West Point and the network beyond the academy is a strong one and is dedicated to providing the best possible mentorship, advice and support to the future leaders in the branch.
According to Melnyk, the level of support provided by the staff and faculty around the academy was recently recognized when AAAA named the Black Knights Chapter the best chapter for 2019 in its class.
Even in this virtual environment, the team strives to remain above the best.